Senators work to formalize energy goal

Legislators' plan would adopt Palin-era goal of getting half of electricity from renewables

Posted: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two state senators are proposing an energy policy that would formalize former Gov. Sarah Palin's goal of Alaska getting half of its electricity from renewables by 2025.

"We're at 24 percent already, so we're halfway there with the hydroelectric projects we've already got," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

Wielechowski and Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, announced the draft plan in Anchorage on Monday. They co-chair the Senate Resources Committee.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was quick to praise the plan for its goal of further developing Southeast Alaska's hydroelectric resources.

"I'm really happy they're including Southeast in there, we're like the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy," he said.

The main goal of the plan is to see that Alaskans have reliable energy supplies at the lowest long-term cost possible, and balancing the needs of both urban and rural Alaskans.

The senators are seeking comments before the plan is finalized through public hearings and the Senate Energy Committee's Web site at http://energy.aksenate.org. The plan will be turned into legislation in the upcoming session.

The first public hearing is Friday in Anchorage at the Alaska Federation of Natives' annual conference, the committee said. Legislative committees have already held hearings in Southeast as part of six months of hearings and research, after which the committee drafted the plan.

The House of Representatives will be using that input in developing legislation to adopt the final plan as state policy, leaders of key House committees said.

"Getting the rural perspective in addition to the monthly stakeholders meetings we've been holding will be invaluable to the bill the House will be introducing to create a statewide energy policy," said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, in a press release announcing the hearings.

Edgmon co-chairs the House Energy Committee, along with Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage. The committee had held hearings throughout the state during the past year.

The Senate's draft plan places a strong emphasis on actions that can be taken in Southeast, including further work on the region's electric intertie, prioritizing Southeast power projects and putting money into the Southeast Alaska Energy Fund.

Southeast has tremendous hydroelectric resources that have provided low cost power for Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, but doesn't have Anchorage's low-cost natural gas for heating, which Wielechowski said was taken into consideration by the plan.

"People in Southeast are paying huge amounts for heating oil, and we thought it was important to reach out to Southeast," Wielechowski said.

One thing the plan doesn't do is decide what the solutions should eventually be.

Studies are underway to look at the financial feasibility of a small natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Southcentral, as well as huge new hydroelectric projects such as Chakachamna Lake near Anchorage. Both may not be possible, Wielechowski acknowledged, but the plan doesn't determine which is best before the studies are done," Wielechowski said.

"It doesn't try to pick winners," he said.

The plan also recommends continued aggressive steps toward better efficiency, including loans to help fishermen upgrade to more energy efficient equipment, as well as continued weatherization efforts.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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